As we inch closer to this year’s NFL Draft this month, our draft team here at Turn On The Jets will be running a series of individual prospect evaluations. These scouting reports are intended to provide an in-depth breakdown of individual prospects in this year’s draft class highlighting players’ overall strengths, weaknesses, potential upside, red flags, and what their best schematic fit will be at the next level. Today, we continue our series with Georgia Outside Linebacker Jarvis Jones.
Position: Outside Linebacker
Measurables: 6’2″ 245 lbs, 33″ Arm Length, 9-1/8″ Hands
Georgia OLB Jarvis Jones has been one of the most highly debated prospects in this year’s draft class. After an extremely productive season at Georgia last year, one that included 86 total tackles, 14.5 sacks, 3 pass breakups, and 1 interception, many have felt as though Jones is the best prospect at his position this year, and arguably the best defensive prospect in the entire class.While his high level of production in the best conference in college football should certainly speak to what type of player he is, they are somewhat deceptive. Although Jones racked up the numbers at Georgia, there are some serious question marks about how his style of play will translate to the next level. Let’s take a look at the good, the bad, and the best possible fit in the NFL when it comes to the former Bulldog.
For a good understanding of the type of player Jones is, and why he has been successful throughout his collegiate career, one must first understand two separate styles of play when it comes to the outside linebacker position.
The first type of player is one who relies more on his eyes and ability to see and react to things, as he is asked to do, within his scheme. To succeed, these players must have a thorough understanding of the defense they play in, as well as a feel for what the opposing offense may be doing on an upcoming play based on formation, pre-snap alignment, and flow of the offensive line, backs, and sometimes wide receivers (if split out in coverage) upon the snap of the ball.
These players make their living on being able to feel what is coming based on knowledge, film study, and visual instinct. They generally have good range from sideline to sideline, giving them the ability to get to where they need to be to fulfill their assignment, as well as the ability to chase plays down. Generally, these players tend to be more evasive rather than playing with an attack, more physical style of play. The key for success for these players is not getting too caught up with opposing blockers because they need to keep themselves free and able to flow to where their assignment calls for them to be.
The other type of player is an attack style of outside linebacker. These are players who are upfield pass rushers and physical perimeter defenders who will engage their blocker to feel where the play may be going, and then shed when and where necessary, in order to fulfill their assignment within the scheme. These players are generally better at rushing the passer than they may be in coverage, and are certainly more impactful against the run due to their aggressive approach. The reason for this is because an attack style of play can set a player up to penetrate the backfield and make tackles for loss, or obtain sacks, as opposed to a player who is more comfortable reading things and generally playing more conservative by not risking the big play, in fear of being beat for something big from the offense.
So which type of outside linebacker is Jarvis Jones? While his numbers scream attack style OLB, they are more of a result of the scheme he played in at Georgia, rather than the style of play that fits him best.
Jones relies a lot on his ability to read things with his eyes as opposed to disrupting through said attack style of play. While he was able to tally 14.5 sacks as a pass rushing OLB in Georgia’s 3-4 scheme last year, this number was more of a result of the defensive schematics putting him in the best position for his style of play to be effective.
What this means is that Jones is a read style OLB who succeeded in his role in a 3-4 because his coaches put him in optimal situations to succeed by making his style of play work within their scheme. Rarely was Jones asked to take an opposing tackle one on one in his pass rush with the sole goal of beating them with pure physicality to get to the quarterback. To get a better understanding of this, let’s take a look at where Jones is at his best vs. where he may be lacking some.
Jones has a very good hands in fending off blocks upon his initial move. He uses quick strike techniques to keep the opposing offensive lineman’s hands off of him in order for him to keep himself free of getting tangled up, where he shows some signs of struggle. If he is effective in this technique, he has a good ability to get the edge with his second step, and if he does, he is very good at dipping his shoulder and running the circle to get to the quarterback in the pocket. What this means is that he has the ability to maintain outside leverage on the opposing offensive lineman, while fighting pressure with pressure and squeezing the pocket enough so he doesn’t run by the passer and give him a lane to step up into the pocket.
Against the run, Jones is at his best when he can evade oncoming blockers. His strength in run defense is his ability to avoid blockers, rather than fighting them off. Because of his overall athleticism and flexibility, he has made a living on playing like this throughout his collegiate career. When he can avoid blockers, which he did often at Georgia, he can put himself in position to make plays.
In coverage, Jones seems to be very comfortable. He shows good recognition of routes with a very good ability to react to them within his assignment. He is fluid in his drops and moves well laterally, as well as in changing direction moving backward to forward. He has the ability to keep passing targets in front of him and reacting, based on what they do.
Jones lacks physicality in his play. As aforementioned, he is much more about evading blockers, rather than fighting them off to make a play. In his pass rush, while he has a good first strike with his hands, he rarely, if ever, demonstrates the a move beyond his initial set up. In short, while he can jar an opposing tackle with his first strike, he doesn’t follow it up with a move to get by them. Therefore, opposing offensive linemen are then able to regain their base and set up in front of him, where he becomes virtually useless due to his lack of ability to fight through a block. While his knack for keeping opposing offensive lineman’s hands off of him is helpful, if he fails with that, he seems lost.
Against the run, the same deficiencies are apparent. When he can evade a blocker, he can help against the run and make plays. However, if a blocker gets into him – something that did happen a fair amount in college, and presumably will happen more in the NFL – his inability to shed or fight off hurts him. When an offensive lineman engages him, Jones is easily moved off the line of scrimmage or out of the realm of the play.
Similarly, Jones’ lack of physicality hurts him in defending pulling blockers. On counter plays, perimeter defenders are normally asked to spill a pulling guard, tackle, or lead blocking back, meaning they attack the blocker head on with the intention of clogging the underneath lane and “spilling” the play to the outside. Now, this varies based on overall scheme and coverage. Usually, for this role to hold valid, the defense needs to be in a cover 2 scheme so the corner squatting in the flat can pick up the leakage on the outside. If not in a cover 2, there needs to be at least another player out in coverage accounting for this area of the field – sometimes an inside linebacker split out over a slot receiver, who then squats in the flat at the snap of the ball.
In these cases, Jones appeared apprehensive in attacking the lead blocker. He would normally revert to his desire to evade the oncoming blocker which would usually result in him running upfield, creating a lane for the ball carrier underneath him. If he did not evade the blocker and did, in fact, attempt to take him head on, he was either driven out, or knocked completely off balance, sometimes even onto the ground.
Jones’ style of play is not a bad one by any means. While he doesn’t depend on physicality, he generally does a good enough job avoiding and getting around blockers to make plays – an obvious testament to the immense numbers he put up at Georgia. However, the approach played at Georgia greatly limited the amount of head on blocks he would have to fight off through use of creative blitzes, stunts, and scheming to put the more physical players in the position to take on blockers. While he does not demonstrate the ability to fight off blocks, he has proved he can evade them well enough to succeed as the type of player he is.
The issue here, is where he fits. While he played in a 3-4 at Georgia and had success, his style of play for an OLB in that scheme was unconventional. Typically, these are players who are going to smash opposing tackles and control them in setting the edge, with the ability to react to the ball carrier, shed the block, and make the play. In their pass rush, these are players with multiple moves, counter moves, and just an overall ability to get off the blocker at all costs.
Jones, on the other hand, is very dependent on not allowing players to get into him. At the next level, it is a virtual certainty that the lineman he will be going up against will be able to do this in their pass protection. While he could beat them with his ability to evade for a few sacks a year, he would seriously need to work on counter moves to get by them when he fails in keeping their hands off of him.
His strengths are in his range, coverage ability, and ability to flow from sideline to sideline. As a result, I think he best fits as a Will OLB in a 4-3 scheme. This will allow him to roam much more freely and will not subject him to as many head on blocks as he may face as a 3-4 OLB. His ability to evade blockers will best be utilized when opposing offensive lineman do not have a straight shot at him.
On a similar note, he will have more success rushing the passer out of blitzes from this position. If he can be limited in his pass rush attempts at the next level, combined with schematics of blitz packages keeping the opposing offensive lineman guessing where he may be coming from, he can utilize his evasiveness and athleticism to get in between gaps and avoid getting tangled up with a lineman, as he would if he was rushing the passer in a one on one blocking situation off the edge.